blue flamingos

Seagulls and Sand

Fandom: Generation Kill

Category/Rated: Slash, PG-13

Year/Length: 2009/ ~3,634words

Pairing: Nate/Brad

Spoilers: post-series

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Nate's half-tempted, sometimes, to call up Mike and ask if he's created his and Brad's easy vibe out of thin air and memory, because they're stilted and full of awkward silence on the phone

Author's Notes: So, Generation Kill, for those of you who don't know, is a seven-part mini-series about American recon marines in the invasion of Iraq. It's based on a true life book by a reporter who was embedded with them, but the show is probably more than slightly fictionalised. Here's an article about the show including a picture of Nate and Brad.

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.


As it turns out, that wordless communication thing – not actually a figment of Mike's imagination, like Nate always claimed in Iraq. He's half-tempted, sometimes, to call up Mike and ask if he's created his and Brad's easy vibe out of thin air and memory, because they're stilted and full of awkward silence on the phone. He tells himself that it's because he's crap on the phone – which he is – and because Brad only talks if he has something to say – which he does – but still...

He really thinks he's justified in being a little nervous when he gets off the plane at Heathrow, cool and damp as he crosses the tarmac. What if they really did only work because they were stuck in Iraq with each other? What if this is a huge mistake, gambled on Brad's career, because UK marines don't have the same rules that US marines do, but that doesn't mean they don't have the same prejudices, and it'd only take one wrong word about how *close* Sergeant Colbert is to his old platoon commander.

"Get a fucking grip," he tells himself, watching the empty baggage carousel go round. He wouldn't even be bothering, if not for some overly officious check-in clerk, who insisted his duffel was too heavy to go as carry-on. It wasn't, but Nate couldn't work up the energy to argue.

"Watch your language, mate," the man next to him says, tucking his daughter round the other side of his body.

Nate fights down a totally inappropriate grin – it's possible he should have tried harder to sleep on the flight – and reminds himself that marines, even marines who are now grad students at Harvard, do not have hysterics in the middle of baggage claim.

Or anywhere else.

"Sorry," he says.

The man grins at him, unexpectedly. "No harm done. Just impressionable ears." He's got a strong British accent, but Nate has no idea what kind of British accent it is.

The little girl – Nate thinks she's probably five or six, though accurately guessing the ages of kids is not one of his skills – tugs at her dad's leg until he hands over a juice carton. When she's happily sucking it down, he turns back to Nate.

"Picked a bad week to come visit," he says, gesturing to the gray clouds outside the glass walls. "Wouldn't think it's nearly June, would you?"

"No," Nate says gamely, though, really, he's been listening to Brad say that he almost misses rumbling through Iraqi heat in a MOPP suit and inside a tin humvee for weeks, so he was pretty much expecting this. It's one of the few times they've managed anything close to their old vibe, Nate teasing Brad about going native, complaining about the weather, Brad coming up with ever-more convoluted ways to describe clouds and some rain.

"Summer vacation?" the man asks him over the sound of the baggage carousel starting up.

For a moment, Nate just stares at him, lost. Sure, he is a student, but he hasn't had anyone assume that since he graduated college. Certainly not since the marines.

The man frowns, looking like he's wishing his daughter was a little further away from Nate. "Your sweatshirt," he offers, gesturing vaguely at Nate.

Nate looks down, finds he's wearing the black Harvard hoodie Mike sent him as a gag gift after he got accepted. Only way you're ever going to blend in with them, he'd said when Nate rang to say a dubious thanks, and Nate had thought about nightmares and anti-war posters and how much saying goodbye had hurt, and not said that he thought he'd need more than a sweatshirt. Had instead said a somewhat more heartfelt thanks, which Mike had mostly ignored in favour of the latest tale of currently-undeployed-marine insanity, courtesy of Person and, bizarrely, Hasser.

He only wears it when he's having a bad day: CNN reporting soldiers killed in Iraq, protestors in the main quad decrying the soldiers along with the war. Phone calls where they're stilted and polite, and Nate half-doubts his own memory, even when the solid certainty of Brad is lodged somewhere unshakable inside him.

None of which explains why he's wearing it now. He needs more sleep, can't remember how he went without for thirty hours or more in Iraq. Adrenaline, probably, or just necessity; for everyone else who was going crazy out there, there'd had to be a few of them holding it together.

He blinks and finds the man's wandered away, taking his daughter with him. Nate doesn't blame him – given the choice, he wouldn't talk to a spaced-out-seeming apparent-student either. He finally spots his duffel circling round and pushes politely through the crowd to grab it. All he has to do is find his way out into the main hall, and he can relax. That, at least, will be easy – compared to miles through Iraq with washed-out low-powered NVGs and a commander who didn't know where they were going, Heathrow Airport might as well be the local corner store.

He's used to airports, used to crowds and people and noise, but there's something that makes him stumble when he finally rounds the last corner. He's ahead of most of the other passengers, stepping out on his own, and he feels suddenly on show, like there's a huge sign over his head declaring him to be a marine. He's surfed the BBC News website often enough, knows that the British don't feel the same way about their troops as the Americans, that they object more to the invasion of Iraq. It's been a while since he felt that part of himself so strongly.

He tells himself again – silently, internally, this time – to get a grip, and keeps going, scanning the crowds. No-one's looking at him, which makes it easier, their eyes skimming past him the same way his slide past them when he's not who they're looking for.

He's pretty sure he couldn't skim over Brad ever, even if he didn't know him. Especially not when Brad's in jeans and a grey fleece, head and shoulders above everyone else and just starting to smile. Nate smiles back, the flight and the worry and his exhaustion sliding away.

Brad catches up to him at the end of the barrier, slings one arm round his shoulders and hauls him close for a hug. Nate laughs, relief and affection, and hugs back, everything startlingly familiar.

"Good flight?" Brad asks when they separate, Nate's bag somehow in Brad's hand.

"Yeah," Nate says, though he finds he can't actually remember it at all. Maybe he did sleep after all. Maybe he's just losing his mind, which would be a shame, after pretty much keeping it all through Iraq. He can't be bothered to argue about carrying his own bag.

"Glad to hear it," Brad says. He's not looking at Nate, but Nate can hear the smile in his voice, knows he's being mocked, but only gently. "You look beat, sir."

He still says it sometimes, and it freaked Nate out at first – was that going to be a part of their relationship now? Was it some kind of, of something, for Brad? He's gotten used to it now, think it's mostly habit, and a little bit like Mike calling his wife sweetheart, Poke sometimes saying honey to his. That's still a little fucked up, but Nate's getting used to a little fucked up as his baseline. Could be a whole lot worse.

"Long flight," he says into too much silence, conversation on a time delay.

"Apparently," Brad says. They step through a sliding door, out into cool and damp all over again, and Nate's glad for his sweatshirt. Boston's not a tropical paradise or anything, not until he compares it to London. He hopes it's going to be warmer in Cornwall, suspects this is a vain hope. "Car's this way."

"Right," Nate says, following him blindly. Brad's rented a car for this trip, because two grown men and a surfboard on a motorbike just sounds like the punch line to a bad joke. Also because Nate refuses to travel three hundred miles on the back of Brad's bike, which seems even wiser now that he can barely keep his eyes open. It'd be just his luck to survive Iraq only to fall off a motorbike and get run over on the M4.

It's still weird to watch Brad point the key fob at a silver Nissan, dump Nate's bag in the trunk and go round the left side of the vehicle to open the passenger door for Nate with an exaggerated flourish. "Your ride."

Nate gets a brief, intense flash of Brad leaning against two-one's humvee, before they shipped out, smiling wryly as Person detailed all the work the platoon had done to get the vehicles ready to go, like Nate hadn't been right there helping out. It's gone when he blinks, nothing but the after-image behind his eyes. "Thanks," he says, gets in. Brad closes the door for him.

"Did I turn into a woman when I wasn't looking?" Nate asks when Brad gets in the driver's side.

Brad gives him a slow once-over and a smile. "Not that I've noticed. I'd do a more thorough investigation of the question, but this parking lot is somewhat lacking in natural cover, and we wouldn't want to shock the natives."

"God forbid," Nate agrees. He's absolutely not turned on by the idea. Absolutely not. "Maybe when we get there."

"Roger that," Brad murmurs, starting the car and putting it into gear.

Nate's asleep before they even make it out of the parking lot.


He wakes up because Brad's stopped the car and is shaking his arm and saying his name. He feels more rested, but also more fuzzy-headed, and it's a weird combination. "What?"

Brad pulls back slightly. "Civilian life's made you soft if you're this grouchy with a bit of jetlag."

Nate rubs his eyes, tries to wake up. He's really out of it if he forgot that flying across time zones is going to give him jetlag. The moment calls for a smart remark, but he doesn't have one.

Brad shakes his head, but he's smiling, the real, open smile that Nate always wants to see more of. "Come on. I'm not driving six hours without a break now I don't have to."

"Speaking of people going soft," Nate says. He looks out the window, finds they're in a service station parking lot. Nothing's as bad as MREs, but he suspects this may come close.

"I've spent the last three months roughing it with the UK's elite commando force," Brad says, climbing out of the car and stretching. "I'm owed some creature comforts, unlike certain ex-platoon commanders, who've spent the time lazing around libraries and getting blow jobs from under-aged women."

A young woman walking towards them catches Nate's eye and bites her lip, obviously having overheard and trying not to laugh. Nate gives her his most innocent smile, and wonders if he's going to meet anyone on this trip who doesn't overhear things he'd rather they didn't.

"Service station food is not a creature comfort," he tells Brad. "And all the women offering me sexual favors are over the age of majority." He doesn't add that he hasn't actually had anyone offer to so much as take him out for coffee, never mind perform sex acts on his person, or that he would have turned them down if they had. He knows Brad knows this, same way he knows Brad's not fucking any of the marines he's working with.

The food is, as Nate predicted, only slightly above MREs, but it comes with real coffee, which is a big point in its favor. It also wakes him up a little, enough that he only dozes when they get back on the motorway, instead of falling properly asleep. Brad sings along to the radio, possibly because he thinks Nate is asleep, possibly because he doesn't care if Nate hears. Half-asleep, Nate has to struggle to remember that they're not in Iraq, that he's not hearing this blown back to him on desert winds, overlaid with whatever two-one Bravo were editing for their own purposes, or the out of tune rap from his boys.

He feels better when he finally manages to wake himself up properly. They're off the motorway, driving through winding roads and sandstone houses, and Brad's got the driver's window cracked open, letting in sea air. "Nearly there," he says softly.

"Right," Nate agrees, looking out the window, hoping he's not blushing the way he feels like he is. It's been a long time since he had anyone to be vulnerable in front of, and even if it's Brad, who he's never felt less than safe with, it's still weird.

They're renting a cottage near the beach, after Nate vetoed the surfers' dorm Brad suggested. He can handle four days of learning to surf, and running, and other physical pursuits which don't take place in a bed, but he's had more than enough of trying to find enough privacy to get off when he's living with a group of other men. It's one of the nice things about being out of the Marine Corps, to mitigate how much he hates knowing that the people he cares more about than anyone else in the world are out in the most dangerous places across the globe, risking their lives where he can't do a damn thing to keep them safe.

It's a tiny place, when Brad stops the car outside, with a neat front garden and the other houses far enough away to make it seem private. Nate finds the front door key under the mat, catching Brad's disapproving head shake from the corner of his eye. Inside, the cottage is white-washed, plain wood furniture, kitchen, den, bathroom, double bedroom in the roof with sloping ceilings and exposed rafters. It's pretty much exactly what Nate would expect from an English seaside cottage, right down to the rain that's still trying to fall.

Brad comes down from dumping their bags in his running gear, and stands against the wall, just looking at Nate, who looks back. He can't outwait Brad, no-one can, but he has to try it anyway.

He cracks eventually. "No."

"I didn't say anything," Brad says.

Nate raises his eyebrows till Brad gives a one-shouldered shrug of acknowledgement. "I just flew eight hours to get here, I'm not going running with you in the rain."

Brad shakes his head in exaggerated disappointment that clearly says he's just making the offer because... Well, Nate doesn't really know why, but he does know that Brad was expecting him to refuse. "Civilian life," he says.

"I did enough running in the rain during OCS," Nate says firmly. He'll maybe go swimming in the morning, even if the water will be freezing.

"It'll wake you up," Brad offers. "You shouldn't sleep now, it'll make the jetlag worse."

Nate wonders idly if he doesn't remember Brad being such a nag because Mike did enough nagging for any three people, or if this is something else, Brad when he's not being driven half-mad by the insanity of what he's being asked to do, Brad when he knows it'll be received okay. Nate dreamed of Brad, when he managed enough hours of sleep in a row to dream, all through Iraq, but everything was falling apart, no place to start anything. Home wasn't really any safer, but coming home wore down the last of his resistance. He has no idea what Brad told himself, about why they didn't or why they did. He's not sure he wants the answer.

"Come down to the beach," Brad suggests quietly. He's looking at Nate, steady and strong, and it makes Nate feel warm and protected in a way he doesn't need and shouldn't want. It's instinctive now, leaning on Brad, standing still so Brad can lean on him a bit, and it's more effective than anything else for getting him to cave.

"Fine," he says, pushing away from the counter and wishing for the plastic coffee mug sitting on his desk in Boston. "But I'm not going running."

"We'll see," Brad says, locking the door behind them. The beach is over the road and across a patch of grass, sand turned brown with the water in the air. It's damp, but not raining, and the salt breeze coming off the water feels good against Nate's face. The sand crunches under their feet as they walk along the beach, angling gently towards the water.

"Hmm," Brad says after a few feet. "Might not actually be too bad."

"What?" Nate asks.

"The water. Not great, but good enough for teaching you without drowning you."

"I can hold my breath with the best of you," Nate says, mock-affronted. Brad's only known him since the Marine Corps beat any possible trace of fear of drowning out of him.

"I know," Brad says, giving Nate an absolutely filthy smile that Nate knows is making him blush, for all that he's over being embarrassed by anything explicit about sex after three years in the marines. His body doesn't agree with his brain on this one. At least the beach is nearly deserted, no-one to see.

Brad laughs, open and amused, half a step in front of Nate and walking backwards. "Hold that thought," he says, and turns, long legs eating up the sand.

Nate watches him until he's just a dark shape, unidentifiable if he didn't know it's Brad, feeling the faint smile on his face. The wind picks up a little, sending him huddling more closely into the warmth of his sweatshirt, and he starts walking again for want of anything else to do.

Brad was right, of course: the sea air works to clear his head, more than napping on the ride down did. Weirdly, so does the damp, gray picture of the day, the mist that smudges the lines of the beach stretching away from him, softening the handful of people into blobs that could be anything. He feels oddly safe, on a beach in the far corner of England, all on his own but for Brad out of sight along the sand somewhere. He's not sure if it's knowing no-one's going to shoot him, or knowing no-one's going to shove an anti-war flyer at him, or knowing that no-one knows where he is right now. Maybe it's just knowing that Brad's somewhere close, that he can stand still for a couple of days and no-one's going to care or object. It's an unexpectedly good feeling, after how unsettled he felt for the few months he spent doing not a lot between leaving the corps and starting at Harvard. He knows he needed the break, but at the time it felt like the worst thing he could be doing, too much time in which he should have been decompressing from Iraq and couldn't even figure out how to start.

He's been drifting in his own thoughts, only realizes he's hit the water's edge when a particularly strong wave rushes up to cover the toes of his boots. There's a ship far out on the horizon, a tanker, maybe, too far to make out without binoculars, and seagulls overhead. A couple of them land in the water, bobbing on the waves. Nate watches them, waiting for them to dive for fish, but they seem content just to ride the waves. Maybe they're enjoying the stillness as much as he is.

He hears the sand crunch, rhythmic under someone's feet, and smiles again, keeping his back to the beach, listening to Brad come up behind him, making no effort to either mask his approach or make it any more obvious than it already is. The strides slow, and Nate turns just enough to watch Brad come up behind him. His skin's damp with sweat, glowing with energy, his face relaxed, and Nate can't imagine, in that moment, what he ever had to worry about with this. It's Brad, in whom he has a bottomless pit of trust and faith; who, along with Mike Wynn, was a huge part of why the platoon made it through Iraq; who has faith in him, implicit all the time, explicit when he needs it. They took twenty-two men to war and brought them home, alive and only damaged in ways that could be fixed. As if it means anything that they sometimes struggle to find anything to say to each other over the phone.

Maybe Brad's right, and college life is rotting his brain.

"If you're thinking of going for a swim, sir, you're wearing too many clothes," Brad says. He steps up behind Nate and wraps both arms round him, like he doesn't care that they're on a public beach, like it's normal, not far and away the most obvious gesture of affection Brad's ever made towards him. Nate leans back into it, feels Brad's warmth even through their layers of clothing.

"We're wearing too many clothes for a lot of the things I want to do," he says to the water.

"That can be rectified," Brad says. He slides a hand under the hem of Nate's sweatshirt, cold against Nate's stomach. "Most assuredly," he adds, mocking the verbal tick Nate picked up in Iraq as his confidence started to drop.

"Not here," Nate says firmly. He's had enough of sand in places it should never be. "Come on – race you to the house."

Brad wins, of course, but Nate doesn't care. Not when Brad celebrates his victory by pressing Nate against the inside of the front door and kissing him, over and over, safe and familiar and absolutely solid.

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